Mise agus Seanadoir Frances Black
Two weeks ago I attended the launch in Kilmainham Prison of the Centenary Exhibition of the life of Nelson Mandela. The exhibition was a testimony to the extraordinary courage of Mandela and to those in South Africa, and in the African National Congress, who struggled for freedom and equality inside and outside of south Africa. It was also a reminder of theobscenity of the National Party’s system of apartheid or so-called ‘separate development.’
The Apartheid policy was one of the great evils of the 20th century. It allowed the white National Party government to exercise control over the people of south Africa. Its roots were in the colonisation of south Africa by European powers, including the British. The policy began to take formal shape in the years after south African independence in 1910. The 1913 Land Act, gave legal status to territorial segregation. Native Africans were forced to live in designated areas. Thirty-five years later when the National Party took power it began enforcing existing racial policies under a new system of laws it called apartheid or separateness.
Divide and conquer is a tactic as old as war. Under apartheid non-white south Africans were forced into separate areas with separate facilities. All south Africans were classified by race – Bantu (black Africans), Coloured or mixed race, Asian and White. The regime’s objective was to maximise white control and minimise non-white political power. In a later modification of this policy the Apartheid government established 10 Bantu homelands. All black south Africans were citizens of one of these Bantustans. In this way the south African regime could claim that there was no black majority in south Africa. It was a huge gerrymander.
Between 1961 and 1994 three and a half million black south Africans were forced to move into one of the Bantu homelands. Their land and water rights were then sold cheap to white south Africans. Eighty per cent of south African land was designated solely for white use and under the ‘pass laws’ non-white south Africans had to carry documentation proving that they had a right to be in a white only area. It took 50 years of struggle to end the obscenity of apartheid in south Africa.
Today, while South Africa has other challenges, apartheid is a legacy of the past. In the Middle East it is part and parcel of the present; of the daily life of Palestinians living under Israeli occupation. Last week a deeply divisive law was passed by the Israeli Parliament which declares that only Jews have the right to self-determination. Under this legislation Israel will expressly promote a Jewish character and for the first time Palestinians living within Israel will officially be reduced to the status of second class citizens. The law “viewsthe development of Jewish settlement as a national value, and will act to encourage and promote its establishment and consolidation”.
Israel’s apartheid policy is most visible in the occupied territories. One of my abiding memories from my visits to the Middle East in recent years and especially to the west Bank, wasthe enormous scale of the Israeli settlements. Almost all occupy the high ground like Crusader forts of an earlier conflict.
There are over 200 settlements with an estimated 600,000 Israeli citizens. These are all built illegally, in contravention of international law and United Nations resolutions, on occupied Palestinian land from which Palestinians have been forcibly removed. These settlements are serviced by roads which are for the exclusive use of Israeli citizens. Large swathes of the countryside are off limits to the Palestinian people who own the land.
The wire fences of the Israeli Army stretch for kilometres across the landscape. Water rights have been stolen by the Israeli authorities. The separation wall – a monstrous construction of hundreds of kilometres of concrete and wire, snakes through the region stealing Palestinian land and surrounding and cutting off Palestinian towns. In addition, permanent Israeli military road blocks, similar to those which used to blight the border counties from Dundalk to Derry, prevent Palestinian citizens and their elected representatives from travelling freely between Palestinian towns and villages. Palestinian owned lands are deliberately separated from each other.
The result is that an estimated sixty per cent of the west Bank, which should be the core of a Palestinian state, is off limits to Palestinians. The similarities between apartheid south Africa and apartheid Israel are plain for anyone to see.
Apartheid as a policy by Israel was further reinforced last week when the Israeli Parliament also passed the second and third reading of the so-called Breaking the Silence Bill. Thepurpose of this legislation is to provide the Israeli Minister of Education with the absolute authority to ban any organisation or individual he believes is acting against the state of Israel from entering an educational institution. The law is specifically aimed at the group Breaking the Silence which is made up of former Israeli soldiers. It publishes testimonies from soldiers who served in the occupied territories. It aims to encourage debate and discussion about “the daily reality of the occupation and Israeli military rule over thePalestinian civilian population in the territories … we aim to generate opposition to the occupation through meaningful public debate on the significant moral price paid by Israeli society for entrenching the ongoing regime of occupation”.
According to Breaking the Silence (www.breakingthesilence.org.il): “The law, in its current form, will stifle human rights organizations' educational activities within educational institutions in Israel, and it imposes sanctions on anyone who does not present the official position of the Israeli government in foreign frameworks."
Regrettably, the reaction of the international community to this current apartheid system has been largely muted and ineffective. One positive response has been the recent decision by the Seanad in the Irish Parliament to pass a Bill, introduced by Seanadóir Frances Black and supported by Sinn Féin, including Seanadóir Niall O Donnaghaile and others, to ban the import of farm produce and other material produced by Israel’s illegal settlements on Palestinian land. Trading in goods that are the product of stolen property is wrong.The Bill now moves to the committee stage. It is opposed by Fine Gael but if successful it will act as an example to other states to take firmer action against illegal settlements.
The lighter areas are Palestinian areas cut off from each other.